Reader NS’ View of Riedl’s 10 Myths

Reader NS sent me an e-mail pointing out that there is another way – kind of a holistic way – to look at Brian Riedl’s 10 Myths. This is from NS’ e-mail:

Everyone’s focusing on Brian Riedl’s analysis, fewer people are looking at the myths themselves. Riedl’s process for writing his paper went something like this.

Step 1. Notice a good looking data point, namely receipts as a percentage of GDP in 2006.
Step 2. Pull out the handbook of Heritage orthodoxy.
Step 3. Use the data point to bolster as many of Heritage’s core beliefs as possible.
Step 4. To hide the narrowness of your data, come up with a bunch of myths that the one data point can be said to dispel, that way, it looks like you are covering a lot of ground, even though you aren’t.

How do I know this? Because many of these myths are phrased in a very precise manner so that the one data point can technically be said to dispel them, completely obscuring the larger truth. For example, let’s take the first “myth.”

Myth 1. Tax revenues remain low.

Notice it wasn’t “tax revenues were lower after the tax cuts,” which is what us lefties are actually saying. It relies on the word remain. Is there really somebody saying that tax revenues remain low? How about myth 2?

Myth 2. The Bush tax cuts substantially reduced 2006 revenues and expanded the budget deficit.

Here the key is 2006. Is there really a myth going around that the Bush tax cuts specifically reduced 2006 revenues? Of course not. But if the myth was phrased more normally, a single 2006 data point couldn’t have made the case.

Myth 3. Supply-side economics assumes that all tax cuts immediately pay for themselves.

This is a two-fer–all tax cuts immediately pay for themselves. This give Reidl some wiggle room to claim that some tax cuts pay for themselves immediately or that all pay for themselves if given long enough. If he was being honest he would have phrased the myth, “Supply-side economics makes wildly optimistic assumptions about tax revenue,” but then that wouldn’t be a myth.

I have to skip myth 4, because it looks to me like Riedl is just wrong.

Myth 5. The Bush tax cuts are to blame for the projected long-term budget deficits.

This one is sneakier. Here the key is the word projected. The assumption is that entitlements (health care) will never be restructured, thus he can compare hypothetical health care costs that nobody thinks are sustainable with tax cuts that he would very much like to keep. If we instead compared the effects of the tax cuts to a more likely projection of future entitlement spending (say a competent government implemented a universal health care program), you would see that the tax cuts would indeed be responsible for much of the future long-term deficit.

At this point Riedl shifts tactics. Instead of relying on the awkward specificity of his myths he moves on to trying to dispel the so-called myths with non-sequitors. He had to get to ten after all.

Why does Riedl distract us with this strained myth/fact structure? Because he has to make a lot out of one data point. It’s the only good looking one they’ve had in a while